Ireland continues to have a two-tier tourism industry with the regions bearing the brunt of the slowdown the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) has said.As hoteliers gather in Galway for the Federation's annual Conference and AGM, chief excutive Frank Fenn said that while room occupancy grew marginally across the country last year, there remains a wide gap between Dublin hotels and the rest of the country.
IHF released figures showing average room occupancy last year was 73% compared to 72% in 2018.
"Dublin continues to perform well with an average occupancy of 82% (down 2%) and this is on the back of an additional 1,300 rooms coming on stream during the year," Tim Fenn, IHF Chief Executive said.
"However, the average occupancy for hotels in the midlands is 53% (down 3%), while hotels along the Wild Atlantic Way finished the year with an average occupancy level of 65%. This is a worry, given the significant challenges already facing the sector and the vital role that tourism plays in the rural economy, where in many cases it is the only show in town," he said.
While acknowledging that the 10.9 million out-of-state visitors for 2019 was a strong performance for the industry, the IHF CEO described the flat growth for the year as worrying should it continue
"We haven't regained the ground lost in UK visitor numbers caused by the uncertainty following the Brexit referendum in 2016 and the fall in the value of sterling."
"The UK market provides the widest geographical and seasonal spread of visitors so tourism businesses in the regions are being hit hardest. Many were just beginning to feel the recovery from the recession but now have to look at their investment plans."
Mr Fenn said that significant work had been done in recent years in the area of product development with brands such as the Wild Atlantic Way and, more recently, Ireland's Hidden Heartlands. However, he said they must be more adequately resourced.
"They can play a vital role in lengthening the tourism season in parts of the country which are currently lagging behind. During 2019 room occupancy in the midlands area dipped and if that continues it could have significant repercussions for the economies of the counties affected."